Double Review: Guardian Angel, Parts 1 and 2 by Fatima Begum

Thanks to the wonder of social media, I’ve got access to a new generation of writers and their stories that I never would have otherwise known. In today’s case, it’s thanks to a writing group on LinkedIn that I got to know a young writer from the UK by the name of Fatima Begum. Miss Begum is looking for reviews of her work, and I’ll be taking a look at her two-part ebook series, Guardian Angel.

Part 1: Me, Us, Them

Copyright © 2016 by Fatima Begum

Lily is a young woman, and Kratos (also known as “Kray”) is her guardian angel. Together, they go hand-in-hand through a fantasy land, exploring the limits of their relationship in mortal forms. But not everything is what it seems to be in this fantasy world, as Kray himself is well-aware. The only question that remains is how Lily will handle the truth for herself.

As a novella, it’s short and sweet in every sense of the term. The romance between Lily and Kray is tender and poetic, and mostly centered around descriptions of Kray’s angelic beauty and the wonder Kray feels toward Lily. The introduction of the fellow angel, Daniel, adds a new dimension to the story that moves beyond a mere love triangle and into a genuine hint of danger. The tension of the story goes beyond the gap of understanding between humans and their guardian angels, and into the gap between dreams and reality, and where Lily falls into that gap herself.

Part 2: Before and Now

Copyright © 2016 by Fatima Begum

After waking up in the real world, Lily has to reorient herself. Kray is not who she thinks he is, and Guardian Angels are not what she first believed them to be. But then again, they’re not fictional either. Lily has to go back to a world she once knew and define a relationship she thought she could trust in a new way.

Compared to the first story, while the sequel is longer, it’s also a lot more setup and filler around the identical plot. We begin with Lily’s accident, and then we proceed past the events of Me, Us, Them to see what the fallout is from Kray’s revelations and Lily’s awakening. Considering how much of the story is just Lily and Kray continually expressing and reasserting their feelings for one another, it never quite feels like we’ve taken a step forward storywise. We do learn a little more about Daniel and Kray’s friendship, but most of the story is rooted around Kray, Lily, and their fervent love declarations.

One thing I really did appreciate from this story, and what I think sums up the entire series, is this passage from Before and Now. It’s a well-written piece, and if you have the patience to know Lily and Kray after this, then you might consider giving this short, sweet series a read.

It’s not stubbornness, it’s not called being selfish, it’s not a one day or a one night relationship. It’s a feeling one can’t explain. You don’t need to know someone for months or years to develop such feelings. You don’t need to know their likes or their dislikes, or their lifestyle. It’s not even an urge to have something you can’t have, it’s just a feeling. Something simple. In fact, so simple that there is literally no words to explain it. It’s strong enough to make you do a double take; to actually think whether to ignore it or not. And when you lean towards it, it holds you tight. It laughs at your vulnerability, but smiles at the determination to succeed. It stands proud to know that you’ve embraced it no matter what the consequences. But, it’s invisible to prevent you from telling others. It wants to be just yours; personal, for you to only feel. This is what we call feelings. We name it emotions. We judge it to be the absolute truth. This is love. But as with everything, it’s a contract that warns you of consequences, telling you to be prepared for reality.

Both ebooks of the Guardian Angel series are available on Amazon. You can also learn more about Fatima Begum on her official website.

Bibliography: Begum, Fatima. Guardian Angel: Me, Us, Them. Amazon Media, 2016.

Begum, Fatima. Guardian Angel: Before and Now. Amazon Media, 2016.

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2: Same Galaxy, Same Heroes, and Some Fresh Beats

Copyright © 2017 by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

I have to be honest, here. The last Marvel Cinematic Universe film I watched in theaters was Guardians of the Galaxy. Not that I’m not intrigued by what the studios have put out since then, but nothing else really matched the insane energy and ethos of that movie. It seems only fitting, then, that I hit the theater last week to watch its sequel.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 picks up pretty soon after where we left off with the first movie. Our heroes—Peter Quill, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and Groot—are flying across the galaxytaking odd heroic jobs for money. After a job with the “superior race” of the Sovereign goes south (thanks to Rocket’s last-minute petty theft and snark), the Guardians find themselves hunted. Even worse, Gamora’s sister Nebula and the Ravagers under Yondu, Peter’s old mentor, take up the pursuit. Our heroes then split off when Peter encounters his long-last father, Ego (played by Kurt Russell). But Ego’s intentions aren’t what they appear to be, and soon the gang is striving to get back together, uncover the truth, and stop a maniacal plot that—you guessed it—threatens the whole galaxy.

I must admit that, when this film started rolling, I was a little bit thrown. It didn’t have quite the space adventure flair that the first Guardians film had. Vol. 1 (if we can call it that now) had an obvious Dark Lord, a quest, a magical item, and tons of space battles from start to finish. Vol. 2, meanwhile, has a more introspective take on its adventure. Sure, they’re saving the galaxy again, but it’s from a more personal threat. And in the meantime, they’re dealing with their personal issues, from fatherhood (Peter and Yondu) to estranged siblings (Gamora and Nebula) to self-worth (Drax, Mantis, and Rocket).

Not that any of this is bad, mind you. I mean, this is Peter Quill coming to terms with his heritage. That kind of soul-searching is expected (and, at times, a little obvious considering where the main twist was headed). But nowhere did I expect to love every single scene between Rocket Raccoon and Yondu. They were two of a kind in this film and I couldn’t get enough of them. Especially in the epic Ravager battle in the midpoint (you know the one, where the Jay and the Americans song starts playing up).

Meanwhile, I do like some of the new characters they’ve added. Mantis is a bit one-note at first, but her interactions with Drax and even Gamora add a lot of personality over time. She’s genuinely sweet in an otherwise cynical universe. And there’s the introduction of Stakar Ogord, a top dog Ravager, played by honest-to-God Sylvester Stallone. Honestly, the movie would be lesser without him in the role. He made it his own, and he has a great tie-in to Yondu’s story.

And on that note, let’s talk about Yondu. Without spoiling anything, he’s the unsung hero of this entire story. As much as I like Quill (and I do!), Yondu had a pretty good character arc. We learn a lot about his past and we get to see him grow a little. Which is appropriate when you pair him up with Rocket, and you learn that, between the two, Yondu’s a little more humane than his furry counterpart. But this is also a story about fatherhood, and Peter’s learned as much from Yondu as he has from his mother back on Earth. Watching their interactions adds a depth to the film’s central theme: that family isn’t about genetics, but who’s in your corner.

If you liked the first Guardians movie, then you’ll like this one, too. It has the same great characters, all shown in a new dimension, and it’s a rip-roaring series of twists from start to finish. It’s also a science fiction film with a good emotional core, beyond all the cool stunts and visuals. I wouldn’t quite say it’s better than the original, but at least it’s on par and I’d rather watch these outer space comic tours out of anything else Marvel is offering these days.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is available through Marvel Studios. It is currently playing in theaters.

Bibliography: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Directed by James Gunn. Produced by Kevin Feige. Written by James Gunn. Based on the comic by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. Perf. Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Dave Baustista, Vin Diesel, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillian, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris Sullivan, Sean Gunn, Sylvester Stallone, and Kurt Russell. Marvel Studios. Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. US release date: May 5, 2017.


Flash Fiction: “The Rainbow Connection”

Today’s story comes to you courtesy from the good folks at Write It Up! in Burbank. I don’t know how it happens, but I got five random prompts that led to this perfect storm of a cute little story.

The Rainbow Connection,

by Alexander Paul Willging

Word Count: 612

The year was 1993. A week after the big Inauguration in DC, a storm hit the nation’s capital. Heavy gray clouds formed a blockade against clear blue skies and sunlight. This armada sent down torrents of relentless raindrops along the entire length of the Mall. No quarter given. No chance for a perky beginning to the Clinton administration. But standing underneath the awning of a grand hotel’s entrance, Sean watched the rain hit and waited for his chance.

It wasn’t too bad, he thought. At least there’d be a rainbow at the end of all this.

Two months earlier. November, post-electoral victory (for some, at least). Sean Vivell sat groaning and restless on his couch, cordless phone pressed against his ear. He couldn’t think, let alone get a word in edgewise, as his mother rattled on about Cousin Jack. About how great he was at the mortgage business. And, really, why couldn’t Sean be more like Jack, she kept asking.

“Okay, Mom… Mom!” Sean flipped the phone over to his other ear. “I have a job. I keep telling you, I’m a paranormal investigat… yes! Yes, it is! It is a real job, okay? I’ve got a leprechaun in my attic and the equivalent of Thor crashing in my garage!”

Sean felt his stomach tighten. Not an uncommon reaction whenever he and his mother spoke. He didn’t mind sharing stupid details like this. No one ever believed him anyway. That came with the job. But the real horror was what would happen if his parents ever found out about his other pastimes. His other day-to-day experience.

As his mom continued her rant in that fine Arizona twang, Sean smelled grits cooking in the kitchen. He heard his boyfriend humming a jaunty tune as he made breakfast. And as much as he’d rather be by his sweetheart’s side, Sean he couldn’t put this conversation off any longer. He’d known it would be a thing to deal with ever since that night running along the Potomac. One weird case, one wrong turn, and the introduction of a familiar dark-haired stranger had been enough to change Sean’s world forever. He’d never been able to close his eyes to the weirdness of the world after that.

“Hey Mom,” he said, “I’m tied up with work here in DC, but I’ll be in your neck of the woods early next year. How about we have dinner? Yeah. Y-yeah, and there’s someone else I’d like you and Dad to meet…”

It wasn’t the pot of gold that Sean brought his parents that surprised them. Although, really, what else did one expect to find at the end of a rainbow? He had that leprechaun O’Malley to thank for this. At least now his folks could finally pay off their house.

It wasn’t even that Sean had decided to bring his boyfriend over for dinner. His mother had always suspected, but said nothing discouraging. Even with the slight shock on his Dad’s face, Sean knew the old man wasn’t about to disown his already unusual child. It was 1993, after all.

What did surprise them, though, was that Sean’s boyfriend was Elvis Presley. Specifically, the reincarnation of 1968-era Elvis, as smooth and sonorous as ever. Sean could hardly believe it himself sometimes. But as he’d learned in his many trips down the Potomac, it was better not to question whatever spacetime warp had caused such people to step into his world. He hoped his parents wouldn’t raise much of a fuss about it either.

After all, who would refuse the rock n’ roll legend for dinner when he greeted them with a wink and said, “Well, thank you very much”?

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Playing the Steins;Gate Visual Novel

Copyright © 2009 by 5pb. and Nitroplus
Copyright © 2009 by 5pb. and Nitroplus

So, a few years ago, I wrote a review for the Steins;Gate anime, and then later I did a compare and contrast post between the anime and the video game Life is Strange (because time travel!). Then, thanks to a helpful comment, I was informed that the original Steins;Gate visual novel was a far different experience and why wasn’t I playing it already?

Which brings us to today. At the time of this writing, I’ve imported, installed, played, and completed the visual novel. Now I want to see how it holds up after all the hype.

Honestly, for the first few segments, both the game and the anime adaptation are in perfect sync. Sure, the VN has one or two additional pieces of dialogue or character interaction in its opening, but otherwise, it feels a lot like the anime, except slower.

I’ll also admit (and this is a nitpick on my part) that I was a bit thrown with some of the translation choices. Having watched the anime first, I know the shrine maiden character by their Romanized name Urushibara Ruka, but in the game and other sources, the name reads as “Luka.” I get that the Japanese language has a thing about switching L’s and R’s in English (it’s actually based on this phonetic issue based on how the letters sound in actual Japanese), but it was weird for me because I’m so used to thinking of this character as Ruka and not Luka because I watched the anime first.

I also have to admit that I like the expansion of several scenes and character traits that we only got part of with the anime. In the visual novel, for example, we see just how in-depth Kurisu’s knowledge of time travel theory is and how big of a chuunibyou (a.k.a. adolescent dreamer) Okabe is. Like, you might think he does the “fake conversation on his phone” bit a lot in the anime, but that’s nothing compared to the breadth of those conversations in the game.

Finally, there’s a great element of suspense and horror that seeps through the game as I played it. At one point, Okabe has this long, eerie nightmare where the disembodied voice of Kurisu narrates him falling through the event horizon of a black hole. It’s an out-of-nowhere moment that’s like nothing else in the anime, and it does highlight the mortal terror of what their world’s version of time travel can do to the human body. There are lots of little additions and surprises to this visual novel that I know the anime couldn’t have made time for in any other way.

So, did I enjoy the visual novel more or less than the show? Well, it’s hard to say. I enjoyed the overall experience of the game, and I can see why so many people prefer it to the anime. But having said that, I do enjoy the clean runthrough of a story that the anime offers. Not to mention the fact that I can never stop thinking of J. Michael Tatum’s voice as Okabe’s voice, regardless of how Japanese he’s supposed to be.

But then, that’s only my opinion. I encourage the rest of you to track down a copy and play it for yourselves.

The English-language version of Steins;Gate is available to purchase on SteamAmazon, and its official website.

Bibliography: Steins;Gate (visual novel). Developed by 5pb. and Nitroplus. Published by 5pb and JAST USA (PC). Designed by Chiyomaru Shikura. Art by Huke. Xbox 360; Microsoft Windows; PlayStation Portable; iOS; PlayStation 3; PlayStation Vita; Android; PlayStation 4 (platform). Original release date: October 15, 2009.


Yuri!!! on Ice: Got Style, Got Grace, Got Ice in Your Face

Copyright © 2016 by Funimation
Copyright © 2016 by Funimation

I watch plenty of Western animation these days, from RWBY and Steven Universe to Rick and Morty and Bojack Horseman, but I’ll never lose my interest in anime. I’m always looking for new stories, new genre, to try out. Which is how I ended up watching a 12-episode show about men’s figure skating and a coach-student love affair.

Yuri!!! on Ice tells the story of Yuri Katsuki, a Japanese figure skater who lost at the latest round of the Grand Prix and went into semi-retirement. However, he soon catches the attention (and attraction) of figure skating legend Victor Nikiforov, whose moves Yuri copied flawlessly in a performance that was recorded and uploaded to the Web. Victor wants to become Yuri’s coach and help him win at the Grand Prix with a new program. This puts Yuri in the crosshairs of figure skaters from around the world in half a dozen competitions, including Victor’s other big admirer, the Russian skater Yuri Plisetsky.

Yuri and Victor are the heart and soul of this anime, no doubt about it. It’s a neat duo with a classic style: the anxious, desperate-to-win young hero paired with a confident, level-headed, and eccentric mentor. However, there’s more to them than meets the eye. Yuri proves to be more confident and playful than he originally let on, and Victor is not quite the untouchable skating champion that everyone thinks he is. It’s refreshing to see an onscreen romance where the two characters actually change roles every so often (and it’s nice to see an LGBT romance done well in a show, as Kori Michele explains in an article on Medium).

When I first heard about this anime, I knew far more about the main characters, Yuri and Victor, and their passionate onscreen chemistry. But after just the first episode, I was blown away with the artistry, the sheer beauty, of the animation for every figure skating sequence. And kudos to the show’s producers for getting real-life Swiss figure skater Stéphane Lambiel to play himself as a commentator.

Most people don’t know this, but I took 8 years of gymnastics training as a kid after school. I never competed professionally, but I know a lot about the work that goes into that kind of athletics, and I can recognize it in the skating routines that these characters pull off. It’s an absolute delight to watch this show for the sports angle alone.

I don’t know if this is true of other sports anime and manga stories, but one thing I liked in Yuri was the psychological angle it took. Every time we watched a different figure skater perform their routine at a competition, we got a glimpse into their inner monologue and what was at stake for them. It’s one thing to do this for the protagonist whom we’re cheering on. This show, however, actually went and did it for every major skater, from the rival Russian skater Yuri to side characters like Michele Crispino from Italy and “JJ” Leroy from Canada. That motif definitely fleshes out the world in which the show takes place.

Yuri!!! on Ice does something spectacular within a simple 12-episode run. It’s a good introduction to both the sports anime and yaoi genres, as well as a tight and well-toned story with almost no filler. It breathes passion, from its characters to its fluid skating animations to its music. Whether or not you enjoy all the stock anime gags, or even if you’re not a huge fan of Boys’ Love, there’s something for everyone to enjoy in this series.

The English dub of Yuri!!! on Ice is available through Funimation. New episodes can be found through Crunchyroll.

Bibliography: Yuri!!! on Ice. Directed by Sayo Yamamoto. Written by Mitsuro Kubo. MAPPA (studio). Funimation (North American distributor). TV Asahi; BS Asahi; STS; NCC; Sun TV; AT-X. Original broadcast: October 5, 2016December 21, 2016.